ACC Basketball: Wake Forest 76, Virginia 71
By Mike Cranston
WINSTON-SALEM ó The buzzer sounded and players stormed to the middle of the floor to hug, jump and yell. The whooping and hollering continued through the tunnel and into the Wake Forest locker room.
Forgive the Demon Deacons for the outsized celebration. This victory was a long time coming ó with some predicting it never would.
C.J. Harris scored six of his 15 points in the final two minutes and Wake Forest received numerous other key contributions in rallying to beat Virginia 76-71 on Saturday for its long awaited first Atlantic Coast Conference win.
No, this young, inexperienced, banged-up team wonít be the first in 24 years to go winless in conference play.
ěItís very satisfying. Weíre all human beings. You need to be rewarded,î coach Jeff Bzdelik said. ěHow do you feel good in this business? You have to win.î
Coming in riding a five-game losing streak full of one-sided and often embarrassing defeats, there was growing talk Wake Forest (8-13, 1-5) could be the first team since Maryland in 1987 to 0-for-the-league ó and the first to go 0-16.
Instead, six players scored in double figures, including junior Ty Walker (11 points), who had scored eight points in all of his previous ACC games combined. Gary Clark added 10, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:44 left in Wake Forestís second win in 11 games.
ěLike coach said, losing hurts,î Clark said. ěOnce you get tired of something you want to try to change it. Today we did.î
For Virginia, a disappointing stretch of uneven play continued ó this time with poor defense to blame.
Assane Sene had a career-high 15 points and 13 rebounds and Joe Harris scored 14 points for the Cavaliers (11-10, 2-5), who led 48-38 with 12:57 left. Virginia, which has lost five of six, has dropped nine straight games at Wake Forest.
While Virginia shot well after making just 33 percent of its shots Thursday in a blowout home loss to Maryland, this had a similar feel to earlier this season when it squandered an 11-point second-half lead in a loss to North Carolina.
ěWhether itís a turnover, an offensive drought ó today it was a little bit more of a defensive breakdown,î Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said. ěThe ability to finish, hang tough, and not give up a lead, is not there.î
ěBoth teams were very inexperienced. You could see that with some of the things happening.î
A day after Bzdelik received strong public support from athletic director Ron Wellman amid his miserable first season on the bench, Wake Forest turned in a performance that didnít resemble any of its previous five ACC losses, all by 19 points or more.
Harrisí driving layup with 1:55 left made it 68-65, and he later hit four straight free throws, the last two giving Wake Forest 74-68 lead 36 seconds left.
It was enough to hold on as the Demon Deacons snapped a five-game losing streak with balanced scoring. Travis McKie had 12 points and 10 rebounds, Ari Stewart scored 12 points and J.T. Terrell had 11.
ěIím really happy for them,î Bzdelik said. ěWe just need to keep getting better ó and we are getting better.î
Mustapha Farrakhan had 13 points, Sammy Zeglinski added 11 and Jontel Evans scored 10 for Virginia, which shot 50 percent from the field but made just 7 of 14 free throws in its sixth straight loss to Wake Forest.
It looked like Virginia was in control early in the second half. Seneís putback and Zeglinskiís 3 on consecutive possessions gave the Cavaliers their largest lead.
Sene, who grabbed a career-best 15 rebounds Thursday, continued his surprising surge since Mike Scottís season-ending ankle injury.
ěHe caught the ball first and did the next thing instead of trying to do the next thing first before catching it,î Bennett said. ěTo see him make some strides and improve in the last couple games, thatís a highlight.î
But Wake Forest had its own surprise performance up front.
Walker, who came in with 95 points in his three-year career, suddenly was dominant inside. His consecutive buckets put Wake Forest ahead 58-57 with 5:47 left.
And this time the Deacons held on for their first win in nearly a month.
ěJust happy to get the monkey off our back and finally get one ACC win,î McKie said. ěBut I donít plan on this being my last win of the season. I donít plan on going 1-15. I plan on winning a lot more.î
The Associated Press
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